Head to any nutritional supplement store and you’ll quickly see shelf upon shelf on whey protein products. A quick 5-minute trip to get a tub of protein powder just turned into a confusing one-hour walk through the aisles reading labels. Which one do you choose?
Often time’s people choose protein supplements on two factors – taste and price. Obviously, taste is extremely important. No one wants to drink something that doesn’t taste good. Unfortunately, money doesn’t grow on trees so most people have to stick to a strict budget. Protein supplements can be expensive, especially if you are a regular user.
In the past decade American people have started to become more aware of what they put into their mouths. From GMOs to pesticides to artificial sugars, people are paying attention to the potential negative effects these agricultural and food additives have on our health.
The milk industry is one of the most talked about food industries in regards to how milk is produced and even if milk is good for humans to drink or not. Whey protein is derived from the liquid material created through the cheese production process. It is a quality source of amino acids and is the most common form of protein supplement products.
In the recent years there has been a great debate on whether you should buy grass-fed milk products or just generic milk mostly derived from grain-fed cows. You’ve probably seen the number of grass-fed whey protein supplements double over the past couple of years. People are now demanding the product. So is it worth it?
How is milk produced?
Up until about the 1940s almost all the cows in the United States ate grass. After the war the demand for beef and dairy products increased leading the agricultural industry to make changes to how beef and dairy products are produced. Today most cows consume a grain-fed diet and are treated with hormones to fatten them quicker for meat or milk production.
Today there are about nine million cows on US dairy farms producing over 206 billion pounds of milk every year. During the 1950s there were an estimated 21 million cows on farms that produced about 116 billion pounds of milk per year. The number of cows has decreased yet the amount of milk has almost doubled. This is due to changes in how milk is produced at dairy farms today.
Female dairy cows are artificially inseminated after their first birthdays. After giving birth, their calf is separated from the mother and generally fed a milk replacement, yet the cow still lactates for 10 months before being artificially inseminated again.
Cows can live for up to 20 years and produce milk for about nine years. Many dairy farm cows live their entire lives on concrete floors or confined to large, crowded lots where they often forced to live in their own feces. Disease can spread quickly and cows are often pumped with antibiotics to fight and prevent them.
What is grass-fed?
Grass-fed milk comes from grass-fed cows. While there is still no federal regulation regarding the term “grass-fed,” the USDA does set standards for grass-fed and certified organic foods. The USDA requires cows that produce certified organic milk to graze in pastures for a minimum of 120 days each year.
Are there health benefits to grass-fed whey products?
Yes. There are multiple health and environmental benefits to consuming grass-fed whey products. Several research studies have indicated that milk from organically raised and/or grass-fed cows contains higher amounts of essential omega-3 fats, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and vitamin E.
Additionally, most grass-fed cows will also be free of growth hormones and antibiotics. Growth hormones are often given to conventionally raised cows with the intention to produce a bigger cow faster.
Conventionally raised cows are also fed a grain-based diet that often contains antibiotics and other questionable ingredients. Farmers who grass feed their cows use a more holistic approach and most likely don’t use antibiotics and growth hormones. However, you should always check the labels incase.
What are the environmental benefits of grass-fed whey?
Cows are the biggest producers of methane on Earth. It is one of the main greenhouse gases that is damaging the climate. Cows that eat a natural diet of grass produce far less methane than conventionally raised cows that are fed mainly corn and crops.
Grass fed cows also only eat grass free of herbicides and pesticides that are often used to spray corn and crops that are made into grain for conventionally raised cows.
So you’ll consume less chemicals and heavy metals.
What’s the difference between grass-fed whey and generic whey products?
Grass-fed whey protein products are generally manufactured by companies interested in producing high quality, healthy products that are both good for you and the environment. These companies, like Natural Force and Source Organic, pledge to use only GMO-, antibiotic-, and growth hormone-free ingredients. They also tend to use minimal processing techniques and no artificial sweeteners.
Many generic whey products are derived from conventionally raised cows that may or may not be treated with antibiotics, hormones, and/or grain-fed. The whey may also be processed with heat and/or acid that damages the bioavailability and protein molecules. Products also tend to contain artificial sweeteners and other ingredients. It is important to check the ingredient list before purchasing any tub.
What brands should I consider?
There are definitely lots of options for grass-fed whey protein products today. As more people become educated about the food industry the demand for grass-fed and certified organic products has increased. There is a wide range of options online and in health food stores today.
Companies that we like include Promix, Source Organic, Natural Force, and Reserveage Organics. Grass-fed whey protein products generally cost a bit more than generic whey protein products. You get what you pay for in life.
If you choose to purchase a product that contains non-GMO ingredients, no artificial sweeteners, sugars, and high-fructose corn syrup, then you will pay more. Generic whey protein supplements often contain a laundry list of ingredients including artificial sweeteners, sugar, and possibly added hormones.
Purchasing grass-fed whey vs. generic whey protein nutritional supplements is a personal choice. The best things you can do are to educate yourself about the dairy industry and to determine what is important in your health. If you are on a tight budget then there are generic brands that are better than others.
It is important to read ingredient lists to see what is actually in the supplement. Try to avoid products with lots of artificial sweeteners and sugar. If you’re looking for something a bit cleaner, grass-fed whey protein products are the way to go.
Health enthusiast, runner, protein nut. Owen likes to write about protein, particularly alternatve supplementation and supplement comparisons.